Over the past seven weeks, many of us have been focused on the nitty-gritty of starting school -- from determining class schedules to buying school supplies, from setting up homework spots at home to setting up entire classrooms at school sites. But now that we're mostly settled in, I'd like to talk about the district's strategic goals for this year. Our school district faces challenges and opportunities in 2013-14; I'd like everyone to understand what's coming and how we can work together to move forward.
Goal 1: Implement the New State Funding System. The state Legislature has passed an entirely new way of funding California's public schools. Under the new "Local Control Funding Formula" (LCFF), students who are low-income, English language learners (ELL) or foster children receive extra money from the state.
Districts with a high percentage of such children also receive "supplemental grants" to further help cover the expense of educating these vulnerable students. Like other districts across the state, we don't yet know exactly how LCFF will affect our funding levels.
We do know that LCFF requires more accountability, transparency and community engagement around how we spend the extra funds. Once the state's guidelines become clearer, our goal is to implement the new system through a collaborative process that includes teachers, PTA groups, district staff, administrators and community members. One bit of good news: our district has already implemented a "zero-based budgeting" system, through which we publicly report not just on our annual revenues and expenditures but on those by unit, site and categorical dollars. We believe this commitment to transparency and accountability has prepared us well for LCFF's new requirements.
Goal 2: Implement Common Core State Standards. California -- like 45 other states across the country -- also has adopted new standards for its public schools.
Called "Common Core," the new standards emphasize depth over breadth, critical thinking over rote memorization and test taking and team-building projects over individual work. The standards are aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills. They also were developed in consultation with teachers and parents from across the country, so they are also realistic and practical for the classroom.
We plan to train all of our teachers for Common Core by January 2015 and provide ongoing support to teachers after that. However, we're fortunate because over the past five years, we've adopted innovative practices and curriculum already aligned with Common Core, including Inquiry By Design (for English Language Arts) and our Math Initiative (for which we received the Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association in 2011). Familiarity with these programs will make the transition to Common Core easier for our teachers and students. Our goal this year is to both implement the new standards by collaborating with teachers and educate our community members about what the standards are and how we can support our teachers and students in this transition.
Goal 3: Engage the Community to Create a Facilities Master Plan. In 2010. the Board of Education passed a five-year strategic Master Plan.
Created after seven months of community meetings, that plan set eight goals for our school district, including maintaining neighborhood schools; retaining excellent teachers by avoiding salary cutbacks; setting up more choice in our secondary schools; strengthening our enrichment programs; and passing a parcel tax to make up for sharply decreased state funding for schools.
Our school district has met the vast majority of the Master Plan's targets. We have more work to do, including creating satisfaction surveys for our parents, students, teachers, and employees; setting 21st century classroom technology standards; and implementing strong sequential music and arts programs taught by highly qualified visual and performing arts teachers.
We also need to address the state of our facilities by creating a Facilities Master Plan for improving our schools. Deeply informed by community feedback and guided by the Board of Education, this plan will create a blueprint for how we will renovate, modernize, and, in some cases, replace our aging school facilities. Once the plan is complete, it will hopefully provide a launching point for putting a facilities bond measure on the November 2014 ballot.
We will be updating the community frequently about the progress of this plan (as well as our other strategic goals). Your involvement in these exciting processes is critical, so please stay tuned and get involved!
We have made great progress over the last few years; I know we can maintain that momentum for the changes ahead. As Frederick B. Wilcox so wisely noted, "Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first." One of our strongest assets is good people working hard with strong community engagement, feedback, and support. Let's all pledge, this year, even more deeply, to take the next steps together, as a team.
Kirsten Vital is superin- tendent of the Alameda Unified School District.